Monday, October 03, 2005

The Awful French Language

Geoff Pullum is a little like Mark Twain. And his LL post entitled The Miserable French Language and Its Inadequacies is a little like Twain’s “The Awful German Language.” The difference is that everyone already thinks German is ugly; but common snobbery has it that French is sophisticated. Au contrair, says Pullum:

... this is a language used by people who are supposed to be the big experts in love and kissing and sexy weekends of ooh-la-la, and they don’t have words for “boy”, “girl”, “warm”, “love”, “kiss”, or “weekend”. ...

I’m not buying the idea that this is a language fit to hold its head high and participate in world diplomacy and lovemaking. This is a language to be tossed the scrap-heap of human communicative failures.

(But what about LL’s misgivings about the Whorf hypothesis and its equation of a culture’s reality with its ability to articulate it?)
Meanwhile, an anonymous author quoted in an LL folo-up opines that “French is nothing but Latin (a gawky language to start with) in an advanced stage of putresence.” 

Hey, rip into French if you want, but don’t dis Latin! Finest language ever.

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 10/03 at 02:03 PM
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Swtiching and Borrowing in Ghanaian English

From a back issue of English Today:

Grammatical adaptation appears to be less
normative. My data contains adequate evidence
to show that the noun, for instance,
maintains its original plural markers in most
cases: singular nana, togbe, odikro, plural
nananom, togbuiwo, adikro – no English forms
*nanas or *togbes but there are the double-plurals
adikros (attested in the sentence “Kuntunkununkun
elevated a number of ‘adikros’ to
chief status with palanquins”, Chronicle
19–21:3:99) and akyames (Akan: ‘linguists’)
(as in “I didn’t know there were female
akyames in Ghana”, as said by an Akan University
professor, 18 Aug 2000, where the doubleplural
markers are Twi a- and English -s). ...

[Sidebar:]When writers in Ghana use a word that they recognize
as non-Standard English, the item is commonly
isolated on the page by means of such devices
as an initial capital or italics, regardless of its frequency
of occurrence. Some examples from the


Posted by Nathan Bierma on 10/03 at 01:56 PM
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“On Language” 9/21: Dictionary invents a word as a copyright trap

Dictionary sets a trap with an invented word
On Language
Chicago Tribune
September 21, 2005
By Nathan Bierma

The New Oxford American Dictionary’s entry for “esquivalience” defines it as “the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties,” as in, “After three subordinates attested to his esquivalience, Lieutenant Claiborne was dismissed.” The word’s etymology is traced to the late 19th Century, “perhaps from French esquiver, `dodge, slink away.’”

But while “esquiver” is a real French word, “esquivalience” is an invention. ...

The copyright trap worked. “Esquivalience” showed up at, attributed to the electronic dictionary Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary of English. (The word has since been removed from

McKean says although the definition of “esquivalience” had been altered at, there was no question that the entry came from anywhere but the New Oxford American Dictionary.

For more, see the 9/24 World Wide Words newsletter, “Noted This Week” (#4).

Posted by Nathan Bierma on 10/03 at 12:00 PM
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